Great.

More footage.

Beethoven’s Exhausted Second Movement Gets Yet Another Workout.

In a remarkable ten-minute propaganda clip, Eric Zemmour chooses the Seventh for his presidential announcement. Given the SUPER-chauvinistic, SUPER-French nature of his announcement, it’s head-scratching that he chooses a German composer for his soundtrack, non?

I mean, yes, the heavy-meaning-bearing second movement gets trotted out constantly — background music for The King’s Speech, background music for the end of the world — but what’s it doing in a hyper-nationalistic French politician’s presidential statement?

Obviously the haunting major/minor of this movement conveys seriousness and sorrow, gravity and dignity. It is both foreboding and, in its tenacious maintenance of its waltz-like tempo, somehow resolute. And since Zemmour’s whole thing is that France is dying – practically dead – it makes sense that this anxious sorrowing resoluteness would appeal to him. Joshua Bell comments:

I’d call the second movement the ultimate expression of despair, … especially as it reaches its peak. It’s the ultimate crying of lament. The slow movement even ends with an unresolved chord with no root, just as it begins. It leaves you feeling a kind of longing right from the beginning and it leaves you with that same feeling as it ends with an unstable chord.

Yet Beethoven is so un-French; Zemmour spends the entire ten minutes trumpeting the unique brilliance of French culture, and can’t come up with a French composer whose work adequately conveys his message?

It is not too late for the Zemmour campaign to align its values with its soundtrack. With no trouble at all, UD has come up with an equally famous and celebrated French composition that conveys, as does Beethoven’s, growing anxiety/intensity in the context of a beautiful melody. A piece that “has a pulsation that … is very close to that of, you know, the heartbeat. And … it grows in that sort of inevitable manner – something that, you know, cannot be stopped. It sort of unfolds and sweeps you away with it.”

Yes. Ravel’s Bolero.

********************

PS: To render Zemmour’s entire announcement totally French, we’d also need to remove his reference to Johnny Hallyday (half Belgian), and have him quote from someone other than Abraham Lincoln (“by the people,” etc.).

It’s not ME. It’s the WORLD that’s sick.

“While his actions were dishonest and criminal in nature, he’s part of an industry sick from top to bottom where this sort of behavior is sadly commonplace.”

***************

Almost all art dealers commit 86 million dollars worth of fraud and then flee to Vanatu. Vanatu has become a second home for multimillionaire art market fraudsters.

Oh. Okay.

“I would expect that [there will] be increased measures to make sure concertgoers can have a great time, but do so without getting killed.”

‘… Abu Taif, or the father of the Taif Agreement, told me at his home in Beirut that implementing [this reform] would mean “their role will end.” Every Lebanese knows whom he means: the half dozen or so men who have called the shots in Lebanon since the end of the civil conflict. “I named them the company of five,” el-Husseini said. ”A bunch of thieves, a company of five that has ruined us.”‘

What does a country destroyed by the debauched greed of five men still produce?

Fantastic photographs. Even their captions can be versified (scroll down).

A baker in Beirut by candlelight.

Beiruti bathed in gossamer at night.

Tonsured by a barber without sight.

Bluewash through the darkened urban blight.

In honor of all the excitement in France today about the Celine manuscripts…

here’s an excerpt from Journey to the End of the Night.


“It so happened that just to one side of my bench there was a big hole in the sidewalk, something like the Métro at home. That hole seemed propitious, so vast, with a stairway all of pink marble inside it. I’d seen quite a few people from the street disappear into it and come out again. It was in that underground vault that they answered the call of nature. I caught on right away. The hall where the business was done was likewise of marble. A kind of swimming pool, but drained of all its water, a fetid swimming pool, filled only with filtered, moribund light, which fell on the forms of unbuttoned men surrounded by their smells, red in the face from the effect of expelling their stinking feces with barbarous noises in front of everybody.

Men among men, all free and easy, they laughed and joked and cheered one another on, it made me think of a football game. The first thing you did when you got there was to take off your jacket, as if in preparation for strenuous exercise. This was a rite and shirtsleeves were the uniform.

In that state of undress, belching and worse, gesticulating like lunatics, they settled down in the fecal grotto. The new arrivals were assailed with a thousand revolting jokes while descending the stairs from the street, but they all seemed delighted.

The morose aloofness of the men on the street above was equated only by the air of liberation and rejoicing that came over them at the prospect of emptying their bowels in tumultuous company.

The splotched and spotted doors to the cabins hung loose, wrenched from their hinges. Some customers went from one cell to another for a little chat, those waiting for an empty seat smoked heavy cigars and slapped the backs of the obstinately toiling occupants, who sat there straining with their heads between their hands. Some groaned like wounded men or women in labor. The constipated were threatened with ingenious tortures.

When a gush of water announced a vacancy, the clamor around the free compartment redoubled, and as often as not a coin would be tossed for its possession. No sooner read, newspapers, though as thick as pillows, were dismembered by the horde of rectal toilers. The smoke made it hard to distinguish faces, and the smells deterred me from going too close.”

The Dubai Expo and the Need for Genital Hijabs

I come to praise Michelangelo’s David, not bury him.

Rather than submerging his naughty bits in a… shaft, Dubai should apply its local modesty icon- the hijab – to his middle section.

Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the literature …

Nobel.

I simply arrived at a certain age and thought to myself that this was something I’d like to do, as for example going to England with the difficulties of being of that age and moving from one place to another. Being a stranger, living through the difficulties of finding my way, having kind of abandoned home, things like that influenced me. I’m not like Virginia Woolf, who knew at the age of ten she wanted to be a writer. I just found myself writing things down one day, as people usually do, and found new pages that built up on these ideas and then came to the point at which I thought: What is this? What am I doing with this? And there you reach the difference between writing things down and writing.

These days, UD is a huge fan fan.

Licentiousness Squared

So the biographer of bad boy P. Roth is himself a bad boy! How far down does this go? Is the book’s editor a bad boy? Typesetter?

Meh. Aside from mucho giggles at age sixteen when my parents brought Portnoy into the house, UD, who taught Roth’s short stories for years, hasn’t benefited all that much from plenty of Roth reading. She fails to detect any literary style in the guy, for starters… Actually, wait, I have another vivid and very positive Roth memory. It’s pouring down rain one Chicago afternoon, and I’m waiting in his car for my boyfriend to pick up something at the Newberry Library. I’m listening to a tape he has playing of Philip Roth reading from one of his works – and it’s absolutely hilarious. Roth’s delivery is hilarious. I’m laughing like a madwoman; and when my boyfriend comes back to the car I make him wait to drive off until I’ve heard the whole thing.

But anyway my problem with Roth never had to do with his characters’ malsain morality; it involved a sense that while the short stories were sharp and moody and wise, the novels were… the novel was not his form. Even Portnoy feels too long; and even his short novels (Everyman, for instance) dully drag. Propped up in their early days by libido, his later novels just lie there.

All of this, I suppose, reflects Roth’s classic bad-boy declension through life (cad-icity; flaccidity; acidity), which left him all bittered up with nowhere to go. Maybe he chose another bad boy to write his bio because he figured a guy like that could summon the ghost of the cocksman. Didn’t work.

Margaret’s Piano Adventures

This morning, playing Gurlitt’s Slumber Song, I suddenly realized that its first bars are a dead ringer for the beginning of Randy Newman‘s Gainesville.

Gurlitt.

Newman.

“You can always tell a monster: He wears scarves indoors.”

Only four comments appear on Dwight Garner’s NYT review of a biography of the realist painter Lucian Freud, and one of them complains about this arresting sentence. As in: What? I wear scarves indoors, and I’m not a monster.

Indeed, what does Garner mean?

UD, rereading Garner’s wonderful review, pondered ‘pon this. The book cover photo of Freud shows him wearing a scarf indoors.

Here’s the paragraph in which the sentence appears:

Freud had a mean word for everyone. He put the knife in white and it came out red. A typical comment in this volume, about an aunt, is: “She was very nasty really, in a small sort of way. Her expertise was opening letters. Other people’s.” If he didn’t like you, he cut you from his life like cancer. You can always tell a monster: He wears scarves indoors.

So I guess the idea is that people able to cut you from their life without a thought are always – graphically – ready to hit the road. Always already dressed for the outside. Or more – people inclined to hate all people, to hate humanity as such, make a point of abandoning one person in their life after another because… because they hate all people. And this is monstrous behavior. Not bad behavior, Garner seems to suggest; he’s not going to moralize. He’s going to describe. Some people are monsters full stop.

The artist was amoral: violent, selfish, vindictive, lecherous.

Some of our greatest artists are – the French have a phrase for it – monstres sacrés. Freud, Picasso, Hemingway, Henry Miller…

You don’t have to be like that – UD‘s beloved Don DeLillo, her beloved Donald Justice – these are earnest, kind, loyal geniuses. But some great artists are monsters.

****************

But the scarf business. It made me think of a film I finally got around to seeing — a film I adored. The Darjeeling Limited. The plot revolves around three brothers in search of their mother, who has not only basically abandoned them, but has responded to their request to visit her with No. They visit her anyway, at her remote convent in India (if you’ve read any Michel Houellebecq, these plot elements will seem very familiar), where she awkwardly, briefly (before again fleeing them) interacts with them.

During their conversation, one of the sons asks, with great intensity because it has preoccupied him for a long time, why she didn’t attend their father’s funeral. She looks at him funny – like, what? – and says “Because I didn’t want to.”

See, now, UD roared with laughter through this movie, and especially at this moment, probably because she finds people who have settled into their being in a relaxed unapologetic unexplanatory way enormously appealing and even liberating. Are they ruthless? Many of them. Let’s drop in on psychoanalyst Adam Phillips at this point.

Sanity involves learning to enjoy conflict, and giving up on all myths of harmony, consistency and redemption… A culture that is obsessed with happiness must really be in despair, mustn’t it? Otherwise why would anybody be bothered about it at all? It’s become a preoccupation because there’s so much unhappiness. The idea that if you just reiterate the word enough … we’ll all cheer up is preposterous… The cultural demand now is be happy, or enjoy yourself, or succeed. You have to sacrifice your unhappiness and your critique of the values you’re supposed to be taking on. You’re supposed to go: ‘Happiness! Yes, that’s all I want!’ But what about justice or reality or ruthlessness – or whatever my preferred thing is?

The Darjeeling Limited is hilarious in part because the boys keep bothering India for harmony, consistency, redemption… On their way to their mother, they’re always farcically flopping down in this or that temple…

A President Named Donald: Final Scene

[Donald appears in the amber light of a door. He has a tragic radiance in his red satin robe following the lines of his body. The “Varsouviana” rises audibly as he enters the Lincoln bedroom.]

DONALD [with faintly hysterical vivacity]: I have just washed my hair… THIS FAKE ELECTION CAN NO LONGER STAND!

KAYLEIGH: Such fine hair!

DONALD [accepting the compliment]: It’s a problem. Didn’t I get a call?

KAYLEIGH: Who from, Donald?

DONALD : Amy Coney Barrett.

KAYLEIGH: Why, not yet, honey.

DONALD: How strange! I —

[Donald stands quite still for some moments — a silver-backed mirror in his hand and a look of sorrowful perplexity as though all human experience shows on his face. He finally speaks but with sudden hysteria.]

DONALD: What’s going on here? What’s happened here? I want an explanation of what’s happened here.

KAYLEIGH: Hush, hush, honey! Please.

DONALD: Why are you looking at me like that? Is something wrong with me?

KAYLEIGH: Please, Donald. You look wonderful, Donald… I understand you are going on a trip… A wonderful trip…

DONALD: Yes! I’m anxious to get out of here. This place is a trap! … I’m ready to go… I can smell the sea air. The rest of my time I’m going to spend on the sea. And when I die, I’m going to die on the sea. You know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die–with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking model, a very young one with a small blond bob and a big silver necklace. “Poor man,” they’ll say, “the quinine did him no good. That unwashed grape has transported his soul to heaven.” And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard–at noon–in the blaze of summer–and into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes!

[A doctor and a nurse have appeared around the corner of the building and climbed the steps to the portico. The gravity of their profession is exaggerated–the unmistakable aura of the state institution with its cynical detachment. The doctor rings the doorbell.]

DONALD: What is it? … I wonder if it’s for me.

KAYLEIGH [brightly]: Someone is calling for Donald!

DONALD: Is it my friends from the Supreme Court?

KAYLEIGH: I think it is, Donald.

NURSE: Hello, Donald.

DONALD: Whoever you are–I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Hamlet’s Last Words.

For our time.

*******************

O, my dye, Horatio;

The potent poison quite o’er-crows my cheeks:

I cannot live to hear the news from Georgia;

But I do prophesy the election lights

On Trump: he has my dying voice;

So tell him, with the occurrences, more and less,

Which have solicited. The rest is silence.

Keep it simple, stupid.

In the post before this one, we noted how often thoughtful people single out Mozart’s Soave sia il vento (this YouTube is just the score without the singers; look at the post below this one for the piece in performance) as among the most beautiful pieces of music in the world. Can we say why?

Here are some ideas about that. First, whether you read music or not, look at the score on YouTube as it drifts by. In this song, the singers wave goodbye to lovers who are sailing away on an uncertain voyage; they calmly and lovingly wish them well.

May the wind be gentle,
may the waves be calm,
and may every one of the elements
respond warmly
to your desire
.

And again, whether or not you read music, you can just see – quite graphically – that under the placid confident well-wishing singing line are constant, rhythmic “waves” (those groups of notes repeating and repeating with a gently insistent forward energy) which both lull and hint at the always-latent possibility of turbulence in life. It is, in short, bittersweet; or, as Bernard Haitink put its down there, full of beauty, tenderness, and longing.

On one level, this Andante gentle rhythmic piece is beloved because it is, if you will, infantile — its persistent soft rhythm perhaps arouses memories of being held and rocked in loving parental arms. And it is beloved because it is simple – simple, and I’d say musically generous. Its slow clarified line, taken up vividly by each of the singers in turn, lets you see the music, hear the harmonies. Albert Schweitzer once wrote that when he was young the very simple two-part harmony in the song In the Mill By the Stream “thrilled me all over to my very marrow, and similarly the first time I heard brass instruments playing together I almost fainted from excess of pleasure.” The concision, the intuitively graspable emotion, the slow and clarified singers’ line that allows you somehow to rest in the music and really relish the harmonies and dynamics (“It pauses all the [frenetic] action” of Così fan tutte, as one performer puts it.) — all of these and more I think account for the exceptionally beautiful and moving effect of Mozart’s song.

**************

Although sung, I think this piece is an example of pure music, rather in the way another, much sillier and much better known piece, is pure though sung. What I mean is that these songs (I have in mind for the silly example You’re Not Sick, You’re Just in Love — as with the young Schweitzer, I’ll never forget my delight and amazement on hearing it for the first time and seeing how the two singers could take their long separate lines and merge them harmonically – how the composer made this complex melding work…) are music itself, the immediate and intense ignition of aesthetic ecstasy in us merely by the subtle and playful mechanism of organized sound.

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